Stella Donnelly – The Castle Hotel, Manchester – 7th May 2018

Secret Meeting score: 76

by Philip Moss / photography by Stewart Cheetham

Tonight marked Australian Stella Donnelly’s first time in Manchester, and on the hottest day of the year so far, she certainly brought the sunshine with her from Down Under. After opening with the Lianne La Havas cover, No Room For Doubt, she self confessed that the rest of the set would be full of potty mouth slurs as emphasised by the self penned, You Owe Me. A sordid tale about an ex-boss she worked for at a local pub – ‘You’re jacking off to the CCTV, while I’m pouring pints of flat VB’.

With her debut EP, Thrush Metal, not in the shops until June, the reception that the packed room gave to lead single, Boys Will Be Boys, showed the word had clearly got out regardless. But this is no sing-a-long ditty. It carries an angsty tone despite her age, and her views regarding the representation of women in the media are bluntly clear – ‘Your dad said women rape themselves, but would you help your little sister if she cried for help?’

Other highlights included I Should Have Stayed At Home – ‘a song about a really bad Tinder date I went on’ – which is a breezy pop number, and Grey which showed Donnelly to be a fine guitar player as her tight fingerpicking allowed her beautiful voice to soar. But, performing solo with the same simple arrangement as the recorded version, it is the rant filled Mechanical Bull that stood out. Its instantly hummable chorus demonstrates a real knack for wrapping itself into your conscious.

Despite having the same pixie look as Angel Olsen, Donnelly’s eye for social commentary is more astute and her demeanour more chirpy. In fact, if the stars align against her in the music industry, she’d make a fine stand up comedian. But on tonight’s showing, it’s clear to see why the legendary indie label, Secretly Canadian, have snapped her up. She’s got more than enough material to produce a strong debut album.